Monday, March 31, 2014

Give All A Chance

My local Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on April 9 about the budget for fiscal year 2014-2015. The year starts July 1.

They are not advertising any kind of a tax increase on the local real estate or personal property rates. Under state law, that means there won't be a tax increase because once the rate has been advertised, the supervisors can't raise it. They could lower it, but not raise it.

It always angers me when they have these public hearings on a flat rate. Why? Because people who want services, who would pay more for them, have no opportunity to be heard. Oh sure, they could go to the public hearing and have their say, but what is the point? They aren't going to actually be HEARD by these gentlemen, four of whom are Republicans. These men are following the party wishes, not necessarily the wishes of the people.

I know this because there are groups of people who want to see better schools, better libraries, a better Botetourt. They have created groups on Facebook. These people unfortunately don't understand the process and think that they can go before the supervisors next week and ask for money for schools. But it is too late. They aren't going to get anything. The budget has already been hammered out behind closed doors, and you, Botetourt resident, will not have had a say in it.

I don't necessarily want to pay more in taxes - I have been sick for months, I have bills like everyone else - but I would like the opportunity to say that I want to see improvements and think that I might be listened to and heard. What if someone comes up with a truly compelling argument for paying for something that would necessitate a tax increase? What if, for example, I won the lottery and I went to the public hearing and said, I will open a facility here but you must provide $550,000 in incentives, and I will provide 1,500 jobs. The supervisors wouldn't be able to raise the money, not through a tax increase, anyway. They have tied their own hands.

It is the lack of opportunity that I am lambasting, not the actual raising of taxes. The supervisors are taking the easy way out. They don't want their party supporters coming to the meeting and chewing them out for even thinking of raising the rates.

However, they don't have to raise the rate, they could just advertise it for a penny more and then leave it the same. That would give people who want more services at least the appearance of an opportunity to be heard. But they don't do that because they want things to be easy. They are going to limp along for the next two years until the land reassessment values are in, and then they will adjust the tax rates and blame it on the change in land values.

They have no vision. My local representatives can't see beyond the next tax bill. They need to be planning for 10 and 20 years from now, not tomorrow. It is their job to listen to the people, ALL of the people, not only the ones in their party. When they ignore 45 percent of the county, they are not truly doing their job. They certainly aren't acting as statesmen. They are lesser men than those who have gone before them.

What I am talking about is a fine line. I am not talking about raising taxes per se, I am talking about process and the rights of the public to have a say in the vision of the county. The path the supervisors have chosen is not what I consider democracy. Advertising a higher rate, even if they have no intention of lowering it, would be more in keeping with my idea of democracy. At least it would give the appearance of being a true representative democracy. Otherwise, they should hold a public hearing earlier in the process, before minds are made up, in order to determine what it is people want.

Instead what we have going on here is despot rule, and they might as well be little lords a'leapin' over the manors, ensuring their serfs are happy. The rest of the county be damned.

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